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3 Ways Vitamin C Benefits the Body & How it Works

3 Ways Vitamin C Benefits the Body & How it Works

Vitamin C

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid and ascorbate, is a vitamin full of benefits found in various foods and sold as a dietary supplement, often used to prevent and treat scurvy. It is an essential nutrient involved in the repair of tissue and the enzymatic production of certain neurotransmitters. It is also important for immune system function. Vitamin C has also been used as an antioxidant.

This particular vitamin was discovered in 1912, isolated in 1928 and became the first one to be chemically-produced (or synthesized) in 1933. Shortly thereafter, Tadeus Reichstein succeeded in synthesizing vitamin C in bulk by what is now known as the Reichstein process (x), allowing manufacturers to mass-produce the product inexpensively. In 1934, Hoffman-La Roche trademarked synthetic vitamin C under the brand name Redoxon and began marketing it as a dietary supplement.

Of course, in more modern times, the term “vitamin C” conjures up visions of orange juice and chewable tablets, mainly for beefing up our immune systems. But how many of us take it as required and what can it do to improve our quality of life?

What is Vitamin C?

Naturally present in some foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement, vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that is an essential dietary component because of the fact that humans, unlike most animals,cannot synthesize it endogenously. Over the years, vitamin C has been an important physiological antioxidant, and research shows its potential to regenerate other antioxidants within the body, including alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) (x).

Vitamin C is also known as L-ascorbic acid, and is considered an essential vitamin for a myriad of reasons. According to Erik Levi, a Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner at HollisticNootropics.com, “Vitamin C works as a cofactor for many metabolic processes and is especially essential for many gut, brain, and adrenal related actions.”

Some people, before introducing vitamins into their daily schedules, will ask their physician or pharmacist, “Exactly what is a vitamin?” Put simply, a vitamin is both:

  • An organic compound, meaning it contains carbon
  • An essential nutrient that the body cannot produce enough of, and which it needs to obtain via food (x)

What Foods Have Vitamin C? 

As we have covered already, the human body does not store natural vitamin C, so this nutrient must be obtained through an everyday diet. It is widely accepted that fruits and vegetables are the best food sources of vitamin C, and that patients may meet daily requirements by eating a variety of these healthful foods (x).

So if food is the source, what kind of foods boost the richest amounts of vitamin C?

  • Guava (raw)
  • Sweet red pepper (raw)
  • Tomato juice
  • Orange juice
  • Sweet green pepper
  • Hot green chili pepper (raw)
  • Oranges
  • Strawberries
  • Papaya
  • Pink grapefruit juice
  • Broccoli
  • Pineapple chunks
  • Potato
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Kiwi
  • Mango
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Lemon
  • White grapefruit

Some fortified breakfast cereals are also a source of vitamin C.

Furthermore, prolonged storage and cooking may reduce the amount of vitamin C in fruits and vegetables, as the nutrient is water-soluble and destroyed by heat. 

What is Vitamin C Used For?

Vitamin C is required for tissue growth and repair in all parts of the body, and is often used to form an important protein used to make skin, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels. It also heals wounds and forms scar tissue. Three of its most common uses include: 

  • Immunity – Vitamin C contributes to immune defense by supporting various cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system. Conversely, a vitamin C deficiency normally impairs immunity and increases susceptibility to infections.
  • Skin Health – What does vitamin C do for your skin? Its antioxidant properties and its role in collagen synthesis make it a vital molecule for skin health.
  • Wound Healing – Vitamin C is often aligned with wound healing because of its role in collagen formation. Clinical studies provide evidence that vitamin C may significantly accelerate wound-healing in subjects without a deficiency (x).
vitamin c benefits

What Does Vitamin C Do? How Does It Work?

We know what vitamin C is used for, but how is it used in the body? How does it perform these actions? In the body, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, helping protect cells from damage caused by “free radicals,” which are compounds formed when our bodies convert the food we consume into energy. The body also needs vitamin C to create collagen, a protein required to help wounds heal (x).

Physiological Antioxidant Properties 

Acting as an antioxidant, as we previously suggested in the overview, protecting cellular components from free radical damage is one of the more vital roles that vitamin C performs. Research shows that the vitamin may scavenge free radicals directly in the “aqueous” cell phase and the circulatory system (x).

What are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are compounds that inhibit oxidation, a chemical reaction that can produce free radicals, thereby leading to chain reactions that may damage an organism’s cells. Put more simply, though, you can think of antioxidants as substances that remove potentially damaging agents in a living organism.

How Do Free Radicals Cause Damage?

How is it that the body already contains free radicals naturally? Free radicals are the natural byproducts of chemical processes, such as metabolism, with the body’s ability to transform air and food into chemical energy dependent on a chain reaction. What’s more, free radicals attack foreign invaders in our bodies floating through the veins, making them a crucial part of the immune system (x).

On the flip side of this coin, is it possible for free radicals to cause damage? According to sources such as Rice University, the Harvard School of Public Health and the Pharmacognosy Review, there are a number of elements that could constitute a “danger of free radicals,” including a domino effect that can eventually disrupt and damage a whole cell, a free radical chain reaction that may lead to broken cell membranes (which can then alter what enters and exits the cell), oxidative stress (occurring when there are too many free radicals and too much cellular damage) and connections to aging (x).

What’s important to take away from this section is that vitamin C is a vital antioxidant. When the body oxidizes vitamin C itself, it regenerates already-oxidized substances such as iron and copper to their original active form. In the intestines, it protects iron from oxidation and also enhances iron absorption. In the cells and body fluids it helps to protect other molecules, including the fat-soluble compounds vitamin A and vitamin E and the polyunsaturated fatty acids (x).

Neurotransmitter Synthesis

In attempting to make this as easy as possible to understand, imagine that the body accomplishes communication between neurons by moving chemicals across a small gap, which is called the synapse. Chemicals called neurotransmitters are released from one neuron at the presynaptic nerve terminal. Then the neurotransmitters cross the synapse where the next neuron may accept them at a specialized site called a receptor.

What does this have to do with so-called neurotransmitter synthesis? As a general rule, the synthesis of small-molecule neurotransmitters occurs within “presynaptic terminals,” and the enzymes the body needs for transmitter synthesis are actually synthesized in the neuronal cell body and transported to the nerve terminal cytoplasm via a mechanism called slow axonal transport (x).

Beyond playing an instrumental role in protecting the enzymes, fats and vitamins in the body, antioxidants help to delay or prevent certain types of damage to cells. Studies have shown, however, that antioxidants may help counteract the unstable molecules that comprise free radicals, in turn possibly counteracting the negative effects of oxidative stress. In fact, recent studies discovered that antioxidants may reverse some of the symptoms of aging, such as memory loss (x).

In summary, neurotransmitter synthesis plays a role in enzyme reactions, reducing oxidation and fighting neurodegenerative disease, including high oxidative stress.

Connective Tissue and Wound Healing

When it comes to wound healing, the primary role vitamin C plays is to assist in the formation of collagen, often considered the most important protein of connective tissue (x). Let’s take a moment to talk about collagen synthesis and how it relates to vitamin C.

Vitamin C is absolutely essential for the synthesis of collagen. In fact, recent research demonstrates that this vitamin acts directly on DNA to increase the transcription rate and to stabilize the procollagen messenger RNA. By enhancing collagen synthesis—and in connecting to the previous section wherein we mentioned memory loss—vitamin C also boasts anti-aging benefits (x).  

In general, vitamin C is involved in all phases of wound healing, including:

  • Inflammatory Phase – Vitamin C is required for neutrophil apoptosis and clearance.
  • Proliferative Phase – Vitamin C contributes towards synthesis, maturation, secretion and degradation of collagen.
  • Maturation Phase – Deficiencies affect this phase by altering collagen production and scar formation (x).

Levi also states that vitamin C “supports the epithelial barrier function of the skin,” which “helps protect against pathogens and oxidation, thus enhancing wound healing.”

What is Collagen and What Does it Do? 

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, found in the muscles, skin, bones and tendons, ultimately acting as the substance that holds our bodies together. No small feat, to be sure, but if collagen is so formidable, what exactly does it do to warrant such a coveted “reputation?”

Collagen occurs throughout the body, but most notably in the skin, bones and connective tissues. In fact, collagen is the main structural component of connective tissue, resisting tensile or stretching forces (x).

When it comes to roles of collagen in our bodies, think of it this way. Collagen is to the tissues in the human body what steel rods are to reinforced concrete: If the steel rods of the frame are weak, the entire structure weakens. Collagen rich foods include beef, chicken, fish, beans, eggs and dairy products.

Additionally, collagen:

  • Helps to support lean muscle to burn fat more efficiently, which could lead to weight loss
  • Supports cartilage, tendons, muscles and ligaments in joints for better flexibility and less pain
  • Helps increase serotonin levels without increasing dopamine, providing for a better quality of sleep
  • Helps give skin its structure and strength while helping it retain moisture and elasticity
  • Helps heal the lining of the stomach and digestive tract while aiding in digestion
  • Helps reinforce the structure of bone minerals (x)

How Does Vitamin C Synthesize Collagen?

Vitamin C’s antioxidant properties and its role in collagen synthesis make it a vital molecule for skin health. Put succinctly, the body can’t actually form or store collagen without adequate amounts of dietary vitamin C, which makes the vitamin a mandatory cofactor in collagen synthesis. It is responsible for holding the cells together when collagen is created (x, x).

See Also
Niacin

What is Hydroxylation, Lysine and Proline? 

Hydroxylation is a chemical process that introduces a hydroxyl group (-OH) into an organic compound. Lysine is an amino acid (building block of protein) that many use to make medicine (for preventing and treating cold sores, for example). Proline is a proteinogenic amino acid used in the biosynthesis of proteins and it can sometimes substitute for other small amino acids. 

Lysine and Proline’s Relationship with Collagen 

Collagen is comprised of and formed from the amino acids proline and lysine. Proline not only contributes to collagen formation, but also muscle, tendons and skin. Lysine, on the other hand, helps support the linking and stabilization of collagen and contributes to the collagen matrix formation of veins, arteries and capillaries.

Food Sources of Vitamin C

Why is Vitamin C Important?

Perhaps, better yet, we should ask the question…what happens when there’s not enough vitamin C in the body? Because most people—in the United States at least—get enough vitamin C via foods and beverages, vitamin C deficiency in the country (and in Canada) is rare. However, those who get little or no vitamin C (below about 10 mg per day) for many weeks are prone to a condition called scurvy. This causes fatigue, inflammation in the gums, small red or purple skin spots, joint pain, poor healing abilities and “corkscrew” hairs. There are additional symptoms of scurvy, including depression and swollen/bleeding gums or loosening/loss of teeth (x), which brings us to our next section.

Vitamin C Deficiency

As we mentioned above, persistent lack of vitamin C in the diet can lead to scurvy. If you eat a balanced diet, it’s pretty easy to get enough. Important to note is that cooking certain foods can destroy whatever vitamin C is in them. In fact, water-soluble nutrients like vitamin C (and vitamin B) seem to be the most vulnerable to degradation in processing and cooking, and depending on the method, loss of vitamin C during home food preparation can typically range from 15 to 55 percent, according to a review by researchers at the University of California, Davis (x).

Further, there are some risk factors regarding a diet low in vitamin C associated with:

  • Pregnancy
  • Breastfeeding
  • High fever
  • Inflammation
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Surgery
  • Smoking
  • Burns 

Why Take Vitamin C?

One of the primary reasons people take vitamin C—notably in supplemental form—is to boost their immune system response, as it is involved in many aspects of the immune system. Remember when you were always told as a child to drink your orange juice or take your vitamin C so you could stay healthy and strong? Indeed, these words of wisdom were not suggestions in a proverbial vacuum. Vitamin C helps encourage white blood cell production, known as lymphocytes and phagocytes, which help protect the body against infections (x). What’s more, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can strengthen your body’s natural defenses (x).

Recommended Dosage for Vitamin C

You may be asking when to take vitamin C. As a dietary supplement, take 1,000 mg up to three times daily or as directed by a physician.

Some recommended vitamin C supplements include:

Possible Side Effects of Vitamin C 

While it is likely safe to take in general, there are some potential side effects of vitamin C that include:

  • Redness and warm feeling of the skin or flushing
  • Headache
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Upset stomach during or after eating
  • Feeling faint 

How Much Vitamin C is Too Much?

We always recommend consulting a doctor to determine how much vitamin C per day to take, but excess vitamin C supplements can cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, stomach pain, headache and insomnia.

Where to Buy Vitamin C Supplements

You can purchase vitamin C supplements in powder and capsule form at BulkSupplements.com. The company is an industry-leading manufacturer and distributor for pure dietary supplements. BulkSupplements.com is not just a consumer brand. It also supplies pure ingredients to other food and supplement brands to make their products. All products at BulkSupplements.com are manufactured and tested according to current and proper manufacturing practices.

Are you interested in trying vitamin C as a dietary supplement? Contact BulkSupplements.com to place an order.

Bottom Line 

Naturally present in some foods, artificially added to others and available as a dietary supplement, vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that is an essential dietary component because of the fact that humans, unlike most animals, cannot synthesize it endogenously. Over the years, researchers viewed vitamin C as an important physiological antioxidant and research shows it has potential to regenerate other antioxidants within the body, including alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E).

In the body, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, helping to protect cells from damage caused by “free radicals,” which are compounds bodies form when they convert the food we consume into energy. The body also needs vitamin C to create collagen, a protein required to help wounds heal.

Though there are a plethora of vitamin C supplements available to choose from, such as vitamin C capsules, it is very important to see a doctor for diagnoses, accurate medical information and permission before taking any such supplements. Additionally, the above statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and the products suggested in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

 
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